It’s no secret that many Catlin Gabel traditions have recently landed on the chopping block; rummage and the homecoming bonfire were both widely accepted cuts, but dodgeball? After a long series of negotiations and trials, “catchball” has replaced the old middle school PE pastime in the interest of child safety.
The changes began last spring when several students complained to Middle School head Barbara Ostos that they felt they were being singled out in dodgeball games during middle school PE classes. One student even had a panic attack induced by the fear that he or she had been targeted. Ostos’s initial reaction was swift: she suspended dodgeball for the remainder of the 2011-12 school year.
“[I] pretty much said at the beginning of this year, ‘No more dodgeball,’” Ostos said in an interview, “but ultimately I think that was a mistake.”
The game’s return seemed doubtful until earlier this fall when a group of Middle School students, led by MSSA president Adolfo Apolloni, asked to speak to Ostos to try and make the case for dodgeball’s return.
“My role was very limited,” Apolloni said. “I went and I asked Barbara to reinstate [dodgeball] and I had terrible arguments so she said no.”
While Apolloni and his fellow Middle School peers may have felt that their cries went unheard, the tide had slowly begun to turn on the dodgeball question. Despite the general feeling of disappointment among the students emerging from the discussions, Ostos insisted that the conversation had a lasting effect and made her rethink the process by which the game had been evaluated. Multiple conversations followed, and a new version of dodgeball was introduced.
“I don’t want to take [it] away from the kids who really enjoy it,” longtime Middle School PE teacher Brian Gant explained. He proved to be one of the key players in reinstating the game. Apolloni also credited Gant for helping a version of dodgeball return to Middle School PE classes.
The center of the debate revolved around the question of where dodgeball belongs in a physical education curriculum. As Ostos pointed out, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education does not approve of dodgeball as an appropriate curriculum element, and the skills the game practices can be easily taught using other methods.
The discussion also took place against the backdrop of increased concerns regarding concussions in organized athletics, an issue brought into the national spotlight by head injuries in the NFL. Several students felt that they had aggravated pre-existing concussions while playing dodgeball in PE last year. While those claims are impossible to verify on a quantitative basis, the reports only added to the case for a suspension of the dodgeball program.
“Every sport has an element of risk,” Gant stressed. Ostos, Gant, and the entirety of the PE department agreed on this basic fact, so they began to work together for a way to minimize dodgeball’s inherent risk so that it could be restored to PE classes.
With the door reopened to restoring the old game, the dialogue turned to how dodgeball could be modified to address the issues that had been raised the previous spring. The newly renamed “catchball” now includes a five-minute penalty for hitting an opponent above the shoulders, and it eliminates the no-man’s-land area in the center of the floor. In addition, students are now offered an alternative activity on a day catchball is scheduled. This ensures no one is ever required to play dodgeball.
“We add things like bowling pins, or put up mats to try and make it less about brute force,” Gant emphasized. All parties agreed that the high-risk, high-velocity version of dodgeball portrayed in the famed 2004 film Dodgeball has no place in Catlin Gabel’s PE curriculum.
Gant emphasized that the name change from “dodgeball” to “catchball” was student-driven. The name reflects the newly reaffirmed objective of attempting to catch the ball to avoid being struck.
The ultimate verdict on the dodgeball question may still be up in the air. As more catchball games are played, more data is collected, and the PE department can make appropriate changes in response.
“We’re getting there,” Gant said. “It’s just a process.”
All sides appear at least satisfied with the current outcome. Ostos and Gant both view the negotiations as a triumph of the process, pointing to a substantive dialogue that involved student input and produced a reasonable compromise.
Apolloni echoed the faculty’s sentiment, saying he is “satisfied with the way it is right now.”